In 1965, Edie Sedgwick appeared in one of Andy Warhol’s underground films in 1965. In it, she said, “I’ve never been anywhere where I haven’t been known.”
The iconography of her aristocratic family litters the New England landscape. You can find it in sculpture, paintings, gravestones, government records, schools and even the name of a town.
Edie Sedgwick was a different kind of Sedgwick icon.
She was a celebrity within a year of moving to New York City. People, especially Warhol, were fascinated by her fragile beauty, her offbeat clothes and makeup, her upper-class poise, her charm and her wealth. During her short life she appeared on film, in magazines and on television. She also inspired some of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs ever written and recorded.
But Edie Sedgwick had troubles. She attributed her messed-up head to the suicides of two of her brothers within 18 months of each other. As a young teenager, she developed an eating disorder and spent two years in a mental hospital. She was dead at the age of 28.
The Sedgwick Family
Edie Sedgwick was named for her father’s aunt, Edith Minturn, whose portrait by John Singer Sargent hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A portrait of another ancestor, Theodore Sedgwick, by Gilbert Stuart, hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. He was a U.S. Senator and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives under President George Washington. Theodore Sedgwick also brought the lawsuit that freed Elizabeth Freeman and helped eliminate slavery in Massachusetts.
The “Hope and Glory” bas relief across Beacon Street from the Massachusetts Statehouse is a memorial to the 54th Infantry Regiment led by her great-great uncle, Robert Gould Shaw.
The signature of another ancestor, William Ellery, is on the Declaration of Independence.
Her maternal ancestor, Ephraim Williams, founded Williams College. Her great-grandfather, Endicott Peabody, founded the Groton School in Groton, Mass., and tutored young Franklin Roosevelt.
Sedgwick, Maine, is named for her ancestor, Maj. Robert Sedgwick, who in 1654 captured the fort Pentagoet (now Castine) from the French.
Though descended from an old New England family, she was born in Santa Barbara, Calif., on April 20, 1943, and raised on a ranch. The seventh of eight children, her parents home-schooled her. They also taught her about her superiority to others.
Her mother, Alice DeForest Sedgwick, was the daughter of Henry DeForest, chairman of the Southern Pacific Railroad and a descendant of Jesse DeForest, who founded New York City.
Edie Sedgwick developed an eating disorder as a young teenager, so her family sent her to Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., in 1962. The next year she moved to Cambridge, Mass. There she studied sculpture with her cousin Lily Saarinen. (A Saarinan work, Bagheera Fountain, sits in Boston’s Public Garden.)
She moved to New York in 1964 because she wanted to pursue a career in modeling. Then in March 1965, she met Andy Warhol and began a yearlong relationship with him. She took him to parties in her Mercedes and he began to dress like her.
Edie and Andy appeared on the Merv Griffin Show together. She also hung out at his studio, The Factory, and met such counterculture stars as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed. Warhol filmed her in short pieces like Vinyl (see it here) and Poor Little Rich Girl (see it here).
Really Bad Effect
“Miss New York, Girl of the Year, socialite, millionairess bullshit, Andy Warhol superstar,” she later said. “All this had a really bad effect.”
Edie Sedgwick also said her two brothers’ suicides upset her. “It kind of screwed up my head,” she said. “I blossomed into a healthy young drug addict.”
Andy Warhol asked Lou Reed to write a song about her. The result, Femme Fatale, appeared on the Velvet Underground’s debut album.
In Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna she’s Louise, and she’s Miss Lonely in Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. In Dylan’s Just Like A Woman he describes “your fog, your amphetamine and your pearls.” And she may be the “you” in Dylan’s Won’t You Please Crawl Out Your Window, interpreted as a plea for her to leave Andy Warhol’s Factory.
On Nov. 16, 1971, three months after she finished her final film, Ciao, Manhattan, Edie Sedgwick died of an overdose of barbiturates.
Writers have since published several biographies about her. Edie: American Girl, climbed to the bestseller list. Another movie, Factory Girl, was produced about her life and released in 2006. Her cousin, Kyra Sedgwick, is also a film star.
She was not buried in the family burial ground, the Sedgwick Pie, in Stockbridge, Mass., but in California.
Photos: Bagheera, by Lily Saarinan. By Susan Saarinen, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia. Williams College photo By SERSeanCrane, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia. Groton School photo By Jplayforth – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia. Andy Warhol By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0–3.0–2.5-2.0–1.0. Wikimedia. Edie filming Ciao Manhattan! By fluctuat.net, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6800141.
This story about Edie Sedgwick was updated in 2023.